Goodbye boyfriend, hello glycaemic index. And creamy salmon lasagne

The relationship Gods must hate me. My boyfriend and I did a “medium distance” relationship for for the first couple of years we dated, driving 100km or so on the round trip to visit each other. After this stage couples often move in together, but no, life had other plans and I was an extra 900km or so away, living the outback dream. “Long distance”, on the other hand, was not much of a dream.  But we lasted through this and two years later were back doing the 100km round trip like it was a drive to the local corner store. But then the Gods yelled “tricked ya!” and played swapsies, relocating Josh to NSW to chase his dream job. So here we are again, planning Skype dates instead of dinner dates. 

With Easter just passed, Good Friday was Josh’s last day in Melbourne, and for a guy who loves his meat, it was hard to make a special going away meal that was Good Friday Friendly. Cue salmon, our other Good Friday saviour (sorry Jesus). The only animal protein we can both agree on. We can also agree strongly on pasta, and the fact that whilst we love rich, creamy dishes, my hips and his belly are not their biggest fans. Hence the invention of my Creamy Salmon, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne. A healthier version, with no butter or cream, minimal cheese, light milk, olive oil and packed with veg, it is also not traditional in the slightest; the beautiful combinations of lemon, dill and salmon are more common to Scandinavian countries, whilst béchamel sauce originally comes from northern Italy and lasagne from southern Italy. So really, this lasagne is a combination of the best things from across Europe, which traditionally aren’t supposed to work, but surprise you when they do. A bit like a long distance relationship- in theory, it’s not suppose to work, but it can bring out the best of the relationship and show that yes, it can last. 

But enough of that mushy stuff. Onto the fun stuff, nutrition part. Often I hear diabetic patients ask if they can eat pasta or lasagne. Won’t it make their sugar levels climb to the sky? This is the perfect question to lead into my speech about the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) ranks foods which contain significant amounts of carbohydrates with a number from 0-100, according to their effect on blood glucose levels. Pure glucose serves as a reference point, and is given a GI of 100. GI's of 55 or below are considered low, and 70 or above are considered high. Glycemic index values are determined by feeding humans a portion of a food and measuring their blood at specific time intervals. The lower the number, the slower the rise in blood glucose levels when the food is consumed. People with diabetes still need a moderate amount of carbohydrates in their diet the way people without diabetes do, though it is recommended these mostly be foods with a low GI to help control their diabetes and prevent complications of the disease.

The exciting part comes when I tell you that there is not one fixed GI value for any food. What I mean is that firstly, their are individual variations. For example, the rate at which people digest carbohydrates varies, one person's glycemic response may vary from one time of day to another, and different people produce different levels of insulin, even with an identical glycemic response. So if I ate a slice of bread and you ate a slice from the same loaf, our blood sugar levels wouldn’t be exactly the same.

Secondly, a food can differ in it’s GI based on how it’s cooked or how ripe it is. Pasta for example, has a low GI because of the physical entrapment of the starch granules within the gluten molecules. However overcooking it boosts the GI, which means the Italians were onto something with their al dente (slightly firm) pasta. Similarly, a underripe banana has a low GI of 30 whilst a overripe banana has a medium GI, simply because of the chemical changes that happen as it ripens, affecting it’s digestion. Meanwhile, when potatoes are cooled or reheated, their GI can decrease by 30-40% from the freshly cooked version, but this will vary between different types of potatoes.

Thirdly, what you have your carbohydrate food with can also alter it’s GI. Large amounts of fat or protein in foods tends to slow the rate of stomach emptying and therefore the rate at which foods are digested, lowering the GI. McDonalds fries will have a lower GI than a baked potato, but over time this can contribute to an increased risk of heart disease, so put down the butter in the mash! Also, the more acidic a food is (eg. pickled foods or those containing vinegar or lemon juice), the lower the GI. Because sourdough bread uses an acidic culture in it’s making, it has a lower GI than white bread. So whilst heathy eating isn’t usually rocket science, this kinda is.

This is probably enough for you to throw your hands up in the air and say “give me the white bread”. On paper, it sounds pretty complicated, but really, it’s simple. Eat a diverse range of foods, but not too much of any one thing. A big plate of pasta (whilst being low GI) with a bit of tomato sauce isn’t the best choice for a diabetic, or non diabetic for that matter. Too much of any sort of carbohydrate will still put a large amount of sugar into the blood, and really, the dietary recommendations for diabetes should be followed by the majority of a healthy population. But if you can mix it with some protein, some veggies, and some exciting flavours such as some herbs or lemon juice, you’re on the right track. Some might say a Creamy Salmon, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagne would tick off all those boxes. Now, if only it is good enough to keep the boyfriend coming back, I’m onto a winner…